Gianni Infantino of Switzerland has been elected as the ninth President of FIFA after he claimed the simple majority required in the second round of voting at the world governing body’s Extraordinary Congress here today.
He beat the favourite, Bahrain’s Shaikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa, to secure the top job in football, making him the eighth European to hold the position since the founding President, France’s Robert Guérin, in 1904.
The 45-year-old from Brig passed the majority of 104 votes needed, claiming 115 votes after receiving 88 in the first round.
Shaikh Salman, widely expected to succeed banned President Sepp Blatter, who stepped down just days after being re-elected last year amid the worst scandal to ever hit the organisation, earned 88 votes, only three more than he had polled in the opening round.
“I will build a new era where football is at centre stage,” an emotional Infantino said.
“We will restore the image of FIFA.”
Following the withdrawal of South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale, who announced his decision to stand down from the race at the end of his speech to the Congress, four candidates proceeded to the first ballot.
Infantino, a close ally of banned UEFA President Michel Platini and who has been the number two at the European governing body since 2009, scored 88 votes in round one, with the Shaikh claiming three less with a total of 85.
Jordan Football Association President Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein finished with 27 and it became clear those voters would prove crucial in deciding the fate of the election.
Frenchman Jérôme Champagne, a former FIFA executive, came in bottom of the pile after earning just seven votes, though he vowed to carry on into the second.
As a result of neither of the four candidates obtaining the two thirds majority of 138 votes needed, the 207 Member Associations – Kuwait and Indonesia remained suspended and were not permitted to vote – then went to the booths for a second time.
Following an extensive counting and verification process, Infantino was declared the winner, sparking cheers and applause inside the HallenStadion.
The result came as a surprise after it emerged last night that the Confederation of African Football (CAF), encompassing 54 Member Associations, were planning to vote in a bloc for Shaikh Salman, which would have given him a distinct advantage.
That seemingly never materialised, however, as Infantino received further support in the second round of voting to clinch a shock triumph.
Following the declaration of his candidacy in October, few had given him a chance of winning the election as many thought his campaign was overshadowed by Platini, barred from standing after being handed an eight-year ban, along with Blatter, in December.
His campaign gradually gained momentum, with constant declarations of backing from various countries culminating in a passionate speech to the Congress, which may have swayed the electorate.
The final few days before the vote, however, saw fellow candidate Champagne attack the Swiss for his financial pledges should he be elected, claiming they were “dangerous” for the future of FIFA.
Infantino has also come under fire for his proposal to expand the World Cup, FIFA’s flagship quadrennial tournament, from 32 to 40 teams.
The Swiss, whose hometown is a short distance from that of predecessor Blatter, will now be tasked with helping to restore the reputation of the corruption-plagued governing body.
He will serve the remainder of Blatter’s four-year term and the next election will be held in 2019.
“I feel a lot of emotions and I have not yet probably realised what has happened – it has been a long and exciting journey,” the new FIFA President said.
“I will show to the whole world that I am not a candidate of Europe – I am the candidate of football and football is universal.
“We will start to work with everyone for the development of football.
“We have to build bridges not walls and football can certainly do this.”
- By Liam Morgan at the Swissôtel in Zürich
- Republished with permission insidethegame.biz